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05-Mar-2017

Why is empathy such a critical skill for effective leadership?

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By Emeline Roissetter, Founder – Professional Coach, MomentuM Coaching

Being an empathetic leader does not mean you are too emotional or too soft.

Being an empathetic leader is actually a difficult skill to acquire and most likely the most powerful in every leader’s toolkit.

Being empathetic means you are able to recognise and share other people’s feelings. It does not mean you have to agree with those feelings, it simply means you are aware of them, even when you can’t sympathise with them.

Once you are able to do that, you then have the power and the responsibility to use that awareness to understand how it affects the person’s needs, perceptions, motivation and performance.

Being an empathetic leader means you can appreciate what another person is going through and adapt your leadership style accordingly to deepen the relationship, increase collaboration and create trust. It also means you can provide that person with what they need to achieve their goals and improve their performance. Isn’t that what true leadership is about?

Why Is Empathy Important When You Are A Leader?

Firstly, it is crucial to remember that leadership has little or nothing to do with authority, management or being in charge. Leadership is about building and maintaining relationships, it is about focusing on people and empowering them to succeed.

As human beings, we all need to feel that we and our work are valued and understood by others. This is one of our most basic needs, one too often overlooked by poor leaders who put results and numbers above people and then wonder why their team underperforms.

Empathy is the key element to creating trust which is the key element to creating strong successful relationships that in turn increases overall happiness and performance.

If your team members have faith that you will take their feelings into consideration, you create a strong bond between you and each one of them which is crucial for promoting better communication, increased creativity, empowered decision-making and enhanced performance. Indeed, the way you lead your team has a reciprocal effect on the way they deal with their work, other team members and customers. By making the well-being of your people a priority, they will in return make the well-being of the organization their priority.

Secondly, it is important to acknowledge that the nature of leadership is shifting. It is no longer about leading different personalities in the same office with the same background as you.

In our globalized world, leaders now have to collaborate with people from other offices, in other countries with different perspectives, values and cultures. They also have to deal with the millennials, a new generation of employees with a completely new set of requirements, insecurities, challenges and motivators.

In this new context, building and maintaining relationships is taken to a whole new level of complexity where your level of empathy could make or break your ability to perform as a successful leader.

Being empathetic means having a deep emotional intelligence. Leaders lacking this skill often find themselves at a competitive disadvantage in our global, fast-changing, people-oriented economy.

What Do Empathetic Leaders Do Differently?

  1. They listen to understand

In order to understand others and sense what they are feeling, empathetic leaders are usually excellent active listeners.

Skilled listeners pay attention to non-verbal cues, they refrain from being judgmental, they ask open-ended questions to understand the meaning behind what is being said, they reflect by paraphrasing & summarising the information and they actively participate in the dialogue by expressing their understanding of the specific concern or problem.

By practising active listening, people feel heard, validated and respected, this is where trust can grow.

  1. They know that they are only as good as the people they work with

Empathetic leaders understand that their success solely relies on the performance of their team members. They also know that their responsibility is to ensure each team member performs at the best of their capabilities. That means understanding their needs and providing them with the relevant tools and guidance to ensure their success.

They don’t expect their people to perform on their own, they don’t blame them when things go wrong, they don’t have to impose their authority and they certainly don’t delegate tasks without mutual understanding and collaboration.

  1. They practice genuine perspective taking

Empathetic leaders consistently put themselves in the other person’s place. This applies specifically to solving problems, managing conflicts or driving innovation.

They understand that each one of their business decisions will have an impact on employees, customers, and communities. They are willing to consider these effects and take into account the personal experiences and perspectives of everyone involved.

By doing so, they make more informed and ethical decisions, enhance trust, build stronger relationships and encourage others to reciprocate.

Did You Know…

Leaders who show more empathy are viewed as better performers in their job by their own bosses. Findings are consistent, when your team members rate you as empathetic; this positively predicts how your boss will rate your overall job performance.

This article was first published on www.momentum-cc.com.